John Swinney appointed as Honorary Professor for UofG’s Centre for Public Policy

Published: 8 December 2023

Scotland’s former Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, has been appointed as an Honorary Professor of the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Public Policy.

Scotland’s former Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, has been appointed as an Honorary Professor of the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Public Policy.

The new Centre has also named Ken Thomson, former Director General Strategy and External Affairs at the Scottish Government and one of the key architects of devolution, as an Honorary Professor.

John Swinney and Ken Thomson join Chris Stark, Chief Executive of the UK’s Climate Change Committee (UKCCC) and Sarah Davidson, CEO at Carnegie UK, as Honorary Professors of the Centre for Public Policy, which was created to enhance the contribution of the University of Glasgow to the public policy process.

Launched in autumn 2023, the Centre will draw on research expertise from across the University community, contributing to building capacity within the policy community to help policymakers deal with the myriad challenges they face.

John Swinney has earned wide respect across the political spectrum. He served as Deputy First Minister of Scotland from 2014 to 2023, and brings to the Centre his wealth of experience as a parliamentarian and senior minister. He held various Scottish Cabinet roles under First Ministers Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon from 2007 to 2023.

John has served as a member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) since its foundation in 1999, and previously served as an MP in the House of Commons. He was the Leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) from 2000 to 2004.

In his role as Professor, John will lend support to the development of the Centre’s Executive Education programme, and support staff in how to engage effectively with the policy process. This includes understanding the role of evidence in policy and law-making alongside the many other factors that ministers and parliamentarians must consider.

John Swinney said: "It is an honour and a privilege to join the Centre for Public Policy at the University of Glasgow as an Honorary Professor. Now, more than ever, it is important that policy makers and parliamentarians work in partnership with our universities to help tackle the issues that are impacting our collective health, wellbeing and standard of living.

“Although the challenges we face are undeniably substantial, I have always been optimistic that change and reform is possible within our society. However, this can only happen with the truly collaborative approach that is the Centre for Public Policy's mission.

“I applaud the University of Glasgow for its commitment to supporting public policy and I very much look forward to working with the Centre and wider University community to develop and enhance the public policy process for the benefit of all.”

Ken Thomson’s distinguished career in the civil service saw him support Ministers of five parties in the UK and Scottish Governments, including as Principal Private Secretary to the Rt Hon Donald Dewar MP MSP as Secretary of State for Scotland and as First Minister of Scotland.

Ken was involved in work on constitutional change since before the creation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999. He later led support for ministers in negotiating the Edinburgh Agreement in 2012, Scotland’s first Fiscal Framework in 2016 and on the consequences for Scotland of EU exit. He also supported successive First Ministers in shaping their programmes for government and on cross-government responses to challenges including Covid-19 and the consequences for Scotland of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

He retired from the civil service in November 2023, following 12 years in Director-General roles at the highest levels of government.

Ken Thomson said: “Governments and those they serve face increasingly complex and disruptive challenges, so it is more important than ever to find ways to bring different disciplines and perspectives to bear in shaping public policy responses. The University of Glasgow’s initiative in creating the Centre for Public Policy is an exciting one. I’m delighted to be able to contribute to that work, and am looking forward to it enormously.”

Nicola McEwen, Professor of Public Policy and Director of the Centre for Public Policy, said: “We are thrilled to welcome John and Ken as part of our growing team. Their combined wealth of expertise and experience at the most senior levels of government will lend valuable insight into the practice of policymaking in a multi-level political system. This will help us ensure that our academic research can support the policy challenges of the day and those we know are on the horizon. Their experience will also be invaluable as we design education programmes to strengthen the skills and expertise for those pursuing a career in public service.”

Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Glasgow, said: “On behalf of the University, I am delighted to welcome John Swinney MSP and Ken Thomson as Honorary Professors for the Centre for Public Policy. I believe it is vital that we use our research and teaching strengths, our inspiring University community and our wider activity to engage with the public and support better long-term policymaking.

“With this new Centre and its Honorary Professors, we will be in a stronger position to be able to bring a range of perspectives to national discussions on the key challenges facing society today. Both John and Ken will bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to their roles and I very much look forward to hearing their contribution and those of our other Centre colleagues in the months and years ahead.”

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First published: 8 December 2023